Protests pay off in Algeria as 82-year-old President backs down from running for a fifth term

Celebrations were heard on the streets of Algeria, a replay of 2011 demonstrations that removed some long-serving leaders from power. Unlike 2011, the 2019 protest was focused on not letting Abdelaziz Bouteflika remain in power as president after completing his fourth term and it paid off, as Bouteflika has withdrawn from the presidential race.

“There will be no fifth term. There was never any question about it for me,” national news agency APS, quoted the president as saying. “Given my state of health and age, my last duty towards the Algerian people was always contributing to the foundation of a new Republic.”

Meanwhile, the 82-year-old president had earlier said in a written message to Algeria, “Of course, I no longer have the same physical strength as before, but the unshakable will to serve the country has never left me and enables me to transcend constraints linked to health problems which can happen to anyone.”

Social movements are a central component of democratic systems, expressing fundamental critiques about unfavourable policies. Historically, social movements have created transformational change, with their greatest strength being the ability to gather the powerless in unison against the powerful. In these movements, protests have played an important role in making issues visible to those who were unaware, giving people a platform to be heard.

People celebrate on the streets after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced he will not run for a fifth term, in Algiers, Algeria March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Fifty years ago, sociologists considered protests to be an undemocratic intrusion into politics. They thought it to be what people and organisations do to feel virtuous, useful, and in the right. More importantly, they thought it an unproductive use of political attention. Years down the line, these have proven to be wrong and Algeria is an example.

During the Arab Spring, accumulated grievances expressed itself in nationwide protests. Following the ongoing challenges in Libya, which was effectively contained through a combination of coercive force and sociopolitical incentives intended to pacify immediate demands, Algerians, most of whom are under 25, have repeatedly chosen peace and stability over political reform by re-electing the president. But with the President’s ailing health and new term limits added to the country’s constitution in 2016, Algerians lost faith in Bouteflika.

The Northern African country has experienced strikes and protests in recent years. Demonstrations are not new in Algeria, but the current rallies are the biggest since 2011. Thankfully, their unity and persistence paid off.

Pressure mounted on Bouteflika to withdraw when 1,000 lawyers gathered in Algiers in protest; more than 16,000 rallied in Paris and France. But the straw that broke the camel’s back was on Monday when over 1,000 Judges said they would refuse to oversee the planned election if he runs. The presidential election earlier scheduled to hold on April 18 has now been postponed indefinitely.